"Course you did, baby." Vida Gibbons smiled, hoping to derail any criticism her husband might be gathering against her grandson.
At dinner, the scalloped potatoes having warmed his mood, Sandler picked up the gossip he'd begun while the three of them were setting the table.
"What did you say she wanted?" Vida asked, frowning. The ham slices had toughened with reheating.
"Looking for those Cosey women, I reckon. That was the address she had. The old address, I mean. When wasn't nobody out here but them."
"That was written on her paper?" She poured a little raisin sauce over her meat.
"I didn't look at it, woman. I just saw her check it. Little scrap of something looked like it came from a newspaper."
"You were concentrating on her legs, I guess. Lot of information there."
Romen covered his mouth and closed his eyes.
"Vida, don't belittle me in front of the boy."
"Well, the first thing you told me was about her skirt. I'm just following your list of priorities."
"I said it was short, that's all."
"How short?" Vida winked at Romen.
"They wear them up to here, Gran." Romen's hand disappeared under the table.
"Up to where?" Vida leaned sideways.
"Will you two quit? I'm trying to tell you something."
"You think she's a niece, maybe?" asked Vida.
"Could be. Didn't look like one, though. Except for size, looked more like Christine's people." Sandler motioned for the jar of jalapeños,
"Christine don't have any people left."
"Maybe she had a daughter you don't know about." Romen just wanted to be in the conversation, but as usual, they looked at him as if his fly was open.
"Watch your mouth," said his grandfather.
"I'm just talking, Gramp. How would I know?"
"You wouldn't, so don't butt in."
"You sucking your teeth at me?"
"Sandler, lighten up. Can't you leave him alone for a minute?" Vida asked.
Sandler opened his mouth to defend his position, but decided to bite the tip off the pepper instead.
"Anyway, the less I hear about those Cosey girls, the better I like it," said Vida.
"Girls?" Romen made a face.
"Well, that's how I think of them. Hincty, snotty girls with as much cause to look down on people as a pot looks down on a skillet."
"They're cool with me," said Romen. "The skinny one, anyway."
Vida glared at him. "Don't you believe it. She pays you; that's all you need from either one."
Romen swallowed. Now she was on his back. "Why you all make me work there if they that bad?"
"Make you?" Sandler scratched a thumb.
"Well, you know, send me over there."
"Drown this boy, Vida. He don't know a favor from a fart."
"We sent you because you need some kind of job, Romen. You've been here four months and it's time you took on some of the weight."
Romen tried to get the conversation back to his employers' weaknesses and away from his own. "Miss Christine always gives me something good to eat."
"I don't want you eating off her stove."
"That's just rumor."
"A rumor with mighty big feet. And I don't trust that other one either. I know what she's capable of."
"You forgot?" Vida's eyebrows lifted in surprise.
"Nobody knows for sure."
"Knows what?" asked Romen.
"Some old mess," said his grandfather.
Vida stood and moved to the refrigerator. "Somebody killed him as sure as I'm sitting here. Wasn't a thing wrong with that man." Dessert was canned pineapple in sherbet glasses. Vida set one at each place. Sandler, unimpressed, leaned back. Vida caught his look but decided to let it lie. She worked; he was on a security guard's hilarious pension. And although he kept the house just fine, she was expected to come home and cook a perfect meal every day.
Excerpted from Love by Toni Morrison Copyright© 2003 by Toni Morrison. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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